For a long time the film seems almost entirely character-driven rather than plot-driven, and the characters are believable and interesting enough for this to have been sustained throughout the film. However, in a sense, the story really starts to get underway once Xiaochun switches to a violin professor of a very different character from the first, and secrets of Xiaochun's past are revealed...
The story builds up to end in a perhaps unexpected crescendo of emotion, which is almost guaranteed to bring a tear to your eye.
Liu Xiaochun (Tang Yun) is a 13 year-old, phenomenally talented, classical violinist, who lives in a provincial Chinese town with his father, Liu Cheng (Liu Peiqi), a single-parent. The boy wins the opportunity to vie in a major competition in Beijing, so the two set off to the Big City with all of Dad's savings stuffed in his cap.
In Beijing, Xiaochun places 5th. (As it turns out, he would have likely won if not for the bribes paid on behalf of the top 4.) In any case, he's denied entrance into the Conservatory because he and his father have no official permits to live in the city. So, after finding the rough lodgings suited to technically illegal residents, they set about hiring a private tutor to hone Xiaochun's skills.
While Tang Yun plays the lead, he is, for much of the film, inscrutable. It's not clear if Tang Yun does his own violin work. If so, then he should perhaps give up acting and go on tour as a classical violinist because that's his greatest talent. My favorite performance was that of Liu Peiqi, who is stellar as the embodiment of country bumpkin in demeanor, mannerisms and dress in the environment of the relatively sophisticated capital.
For the viewer, TOGETHER WITH YOU is a wealth of engaging plots and subplots. The main thread of the storyline, that of finding a tutor for Xiaochun, is neatly split into two as first one, Prof. Jiang (Wang Zhiwen) is discovered, and then a second, Prof. Yu Shifeng (Chen Kaige - also the film's director). The boy's time with the latter incorporates a minor aside involving Lin Yu (Zhang Qing), a girl student competing with Xiaochun for Shifeng's favor. Overlaying all this, and providing a comedic element, is Xiaochun's platonic infatuation with Lili (Chen Hong - also the film director's wife), who lives in a comfortable apartment nearby to the hovel shared by Liu Cheng and his son. Lili is apparently a working girl whose companionship is available for hire by well-off males, although the presumed sexual nature of this arrangement is never explicitly made clear.
My only complaint regarding TOGETHER WITH YOU is that delivery of the story's message, i.e. that feelings are more important than technique when it comes to playing a musical instrument, is prolonged. The film would have benefited greatly from judicious editing, which, in my opinion, should have deleted the Prof. Jiang character entirely, reduced the involvement of Lili, and expanded the interaction between Xiaochun, Shifeng, and Lin Yu. I say this even though the director's occasionally mesmerizing use of light is best exemplified during the scene when Jiang finally comes out of the funk brought on by a long ago lost love.
TOGETHER WITH YOU is an elegantly artistic film to watch and savor.
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